There are a lot of white birds around the florida coast and into the flatwoods. From a distance many look alike but, they aren’t too hard to tell apart with some knowledge of their characteristics. There are so many of them that the Peace River Audubon Society actually calls their newletter The Whitebird. Here are some notes on how to identify them.
The flight image shows the Great Egret with the green breeding color surround of the eye. In the second picture you can see a Great Egret in the background with a Snowy Egret in front of it. This gives you an ide of the relative size.
Snowy Egret – Egretta Thula
As you can see above, the Snowy Egret is much smaller. It also has yellow feet or, when younger, yellow legs. They are a lot more active birds than the great egret too.
They even feed on the wing as you can see as they drive off a laughing gull from a school of fingerling fish. Their breeding eyepatch is a bright yellow. To match their socks, I guess.
Cattle Egret – Bubulcus ibis
There is another egret of similar size called the Cattle Egret. You won’t find it feeding on the fly and will seldom find it in salt water. It is generally in larger groups than the coastal herons and egrets. It likes to hang around in pastures and fresh water ponds with cattle who disturbed the earth and kick up the grubs it feeds on. I guess they aren’t too smart though because I found a flock of them wondering why this cow had such short legs and such a big tail.
They also have some tan/brown feathers on the tops of their heads and backs which differentiate them from the Snowy Egret. They also lack the yellow feet of the snowy.
Little Blue Heron – Egretta caerulea
The Little Blue Heron is a white bird? Yes, it is in it’s immature phase. It starts off as a white bird and goes through a pied phase as it reaches it’s adult plumage. Here are pictures of both phases.
The grey around the face and legs makes it fairly easy to differentiate between the immature Little Blue Heron and the other small white birds.
White Ibis – Eudocimus albus
This one is pretty easy to identify. The downward curved beak is a real tipoff in case you miss the color of it. These can be found anywhere. Sometimes they wade and others dig around for grubs in the ground. Their maturing colors are the opposite of the Little Blue Heron. They start off as a brown bird and go through a pied phase as they turn white. On the ground and in the air, you can see just a bit of black at the tips of the wings.
Wood Stork – Mycteria americana
The final white bird is the Wood Stork. It is the only member of the stork family native to North America. The crackers call the wood stork Iron Head because of it’s appearance. Like the Ibis, it has a curved beak and shows black areas on it’s wings. Here are a couple of shots of it.
It’s pretty obvious where the Iron Head name comes from. They are often seen together with Ibis since they are similar in feeding habits. They like soft ground to dig in to. Here is a shot of a mixed flock of Ibis and Wood Storks. You can easily tell which is which from the size and color patterns.
Of course, this list of white birds doesn’t include all of the gulls and terns that you will find in Florida. Maybe I’ll do that another time.